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Choose Some News That Doesn’t Fit

Where do you get your news, and why?

Do you like the ease of TV, the speed of online sites, or the feel of a newspaper in your hands? Maybe you like the slant your outlet puts on the news because it matches your own values.

I spent 25 years as a journalist, 26 if you count the year I delivered Newsday on a green Schwinn rigged with a basket that looked like a mini-shopping cart.

We needed those jumbo baskets. Newspapers then were fat with news and ads, plus people had fewer options. There was no Internet, and TV meant seven channels and two colors, black and white, same as the newspaper.

Flash way forward.

Today’s technology has made possible a menu so diverse that people can actually pick news outlets that cater to their ideological point of view. I wonder sometimes if less was more.

It turns out that more than one in four of us choose news that fits our beliefs, says a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Dig deeper and you’ll find that Republicans prefer Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, and Democrats lean to Rachel Maddow, Hardball and the New York Times.

That’s no surprise, but it speaks to two concerns. First, when news outlets intentionally cater to a particular viewpoint, ostensibly to drive market share and revenue, they’re breaking the rules taught by every J-school in the nation.

The journalists’ code of ethics (yes, there is one, though violations carry no penalty beyond a damaged rep) says that reporters should “examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.” The code also says news outlets should:

–       Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

–       Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

The second issue is a less informed public. If you’re only getting the side that affirms your point of view, you’re not listening, let alone hearing. And of course that leads to less understanding and tolerance.

Hemingway said, “I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

I think back to wrestling those old Newsdays into thirds and securing them with thick rubber bands. I remember how unwieldy all that newsprint made the bike feel at the start, and how easy peddling became after I had flung the last paper and the wire basket was empty.

What’s being delivered today? Are we demanding enough of those in charge of delivering the news? Perhaps most important, are we being selective as news consumers, or sitting quietly in the choir, swallowing every word as the gospel?

Pew Survey: http://stateofthemedia.org/

Journalists’ Code of Ethics: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent.

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12 Responses to "Choose Some News That Doesn’t Fit"

  1. Angela says:

    I think it’s absolutely critical we challenge our perspectives – daily. Tunnel vision is dangerous. How can we grow and learn if we isolate ourselves to one voice? I try to mix it up as much as possible. I watch Morning Joe. I receive email news updates from the NY Times and Fox News. And I skim the BBC, CNN and local newspaper apps. It leads to an interesting mix of perspectives on the news of the day!

  2. You’re a smart news consumer, Angela. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Tom says:

    Good piece. Important that people understand clearly that Hannity, Limbaugh, Maddow, Matthews, and other are not news programs, they are editorial programs trying to push a positions. Fox, NBC, and others have decent news report IF you watch the news and not the opinion programming.
    Unfortunatley, the news groups of these stations also slant news in the direction of their political persuasion. NBC’s lovefest with Obama is a case in point, as is Fox’s determination to drudge up bad news.
    It’s left to the consumer of news to read and hear multiple pieces and decide the real news.
    Keep up the good work, Steve!

  4. Jane Stelboum says:

    I get my news from a variety of sources, depending where I am and what I’m doing. I still love my newspaper in the morning – Wash Post. I lean more liberal so I guess my media taste does as well although I resist going quite as far as MSNBC, except for the occasional check in. On TV I’m mostly watching CNN, which I think is the most objective. I’ll check in online there as well and at Huff Post. When I’m in the car I’m a news junkie, whether it’s a quick hit at WTOP for local news, NPR, or again CNN on Sirius.

  5. Steve Piacente says:

    You make good points, Tom. News outlets at both ends of the political spectrum should be more responsible, and folks should remember what mom taught us long ago: to consider the source.

  6. Steve Piacente says:

    The fact that you’re looking for objective reporting tells me you’ll find it, Jane. Thanks for weighing in.

  7. J. David Bethel says:

    One of the problems with journalism today — in my very humble opinion — is that it is less journalism than it is advocacy. Analysis is printed on the front page of newspapers, for instance, where unadulterated news should carry the day. Too often, the articles themselves make little attempt to conceal the editorial policy of the outlet. It is no longer necessary to read between the lines to discover the philosophical persuasion of the publishers. Readers are no longer so much informed as they are propagandized.

    The news represented on most of the television networks, and certainly on the cable channels, isn’t even disguised as news most of the time. The talking heads are quick to provide their take on what developments “really” mean. The translate the news instead of reporting it.

    All of which means that if one is truly interested in understanding what the hell is going on, he/she must make the effort to cover the bases. Fox. MSNBC. Chicago Tribune. NY Times. All — and more — must be reviewed and then discerned by the reader/viewer. And discerning it doesn’t mean understanding what is truly going on, but struggling to put a puzzle together and hopefully coming up with the right picture.

    It’s exhausting and very dangerous to the healthy functioning of a democracy.

  8. Mike C. says:

    It is very difficult to be 100% objective, as you taught us last semester. But it is a shame how both far both ends of the spectrum move away from one of the first principles they learn in their journalism education, whether it be through slanting their reporting or choosing not to report certain things that will embarrass their political agenda. Great read Prof.

  9. Your comments should be a red flag for everyone who tries to stay informed, David. The lines between news, analysis and even entertainment have become terribly tangled.

  10. Objectivity is elusive; fairness is a better target, Mike. Thanks for dropping by!

  11. Lizzie says:

    Very interesting article.. People often mistake pundits for journalists and take them at their word. These pundits have an audience they’re catering for, and don’t make their stances secret. The public needs to understand that and find their news elsewhere, from true journalists, in order to get a more fair view of the issues and events of today. Those pundits are fun, but they are not news.

  12. I’d also add the Jon Stewarts of the world to your list, Lizzie. The line between news and entertainment has definitely blurred, and people should always think hard about the source when they’re consuming information. Appreciate you dropping by and joining the discussion!

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